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Ferris' last stand as Ulster dig deep against Saracens - My 2014 sporting moment

Sean Farrell looks back on a painful day that signalled the end of an era for Ulster.

TALK ABOUT MOMENTUM. The fortnight before Ulster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against Saracens was a perfect storm of ever-rising positivity.

Ireland had a trophy, Stephen Ferris had smashed his way back on to a rugby field, Tommy Bowe had recovered from his groin problem, Ruan Pienaar’s shoulder was supposed to be grand.

And the new Ravenhill? Well you could still smell the fresh paint at kick-off.

They were queueing before the gates opened, a fine film of builder’s dust coated some of the smoother concrete floors outside and in the press room we unwrapped cables to plug in and go online.

A fresh new stadium and a home side with a thirst for revenge. What could possible go wrong?

Well, a few things actually.

Rory Best injured Source: Presseye/Brian Little/INPHO

Perhaps it was rank disappointment, disbelief or because I’m just a little bit colour blind, but it took a few seconds to register the true colour of the card shown to Jared Payne. Held up in the floodlit evening air, the red shone like a flare inviting the Wolf Pack to come down and eat their fill.

Jared Payne tackles Alex Goode Source: Presseye/Brian Little/INPHO

Perhaps even more remarkable than the performance of the 14 men in the face of a formidable Saracens side was the captain and star winger pouring their heart out in the post-match press conference. Johann Muller and Tommy Bowe were drained men. There were no tears, not here at least, just a flat numb appraisal of their own personal rock bottom.

There was no room for a straight bat and no energy for a hollow ’come back stronger.’ Not this time.

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Source: Rugby Highlights/YouTube

“Massively proud,” agreed Muller to the leading question, “but at the end of the day; it’s going to haunt us for the rest of our lives because that’s a massive one that got away from us.”

“It’s my last Heineken Cup game, obviously it’s going to be emotional. The way that it happened, that’s not the way that I dreamed about. If we lost fair and square I could have taken it, but to lose in the way that we did hurts, it really does.”

Stephen Ferris dejected after the game Source: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

Tommy Bowe mourned the passing of ‘one of the best opportunities’ Ulster would ever have to win a second European Cup. Press fast forward for the end of the era and the exit of Muller, Tom Court, John Afoa, Paddy Wallace and Ferris – who played his final 25 minutes of rugby as Ulster threw the kitchen sink at Saracens only to be picked off by Charlie Hodgson and Chris Ashton.

Chris Ashton scores a try Source: Presseye/Brian Little/INPHO

It’s a game that will forever be remembered for the red card shown to Payne, but let’s not get into it. Instead, it’s a game I remember for the incredible performance from an Ulster side stripped not only of a 15th man, but also (through injury) their talismanic hooker, scrum-half and Player of the Six Nations, Andrew Trimble.

15 – 17 is the only fact that mattered, but it really doesn’t tell half the story.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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